The ‘lady’ comes to Sidmouth for novel talk
Author and journalist Rachel Johnson came to Sidmouth last week to promote her novel Winter Games and talk about her turbulent time as editor of The Lady.
She was in town to speak to guests at the latest Meet the Authors event in Kennaway House, but sat down with Herald reporter Alain Tolhurst beforehand to describe her career in newspapers, books and television.
Having recently presented a programme on the history of ‘being a lady’, as well as having a weekly column, she has now been published for the fourth time.
“You have to be multi-platform, and it’s great to have the opportunity,” she said.
Her latest book is a time-shift novel, intertwining two stories set 70 years apart, one in 1930s Germany, and the other in 2006.
“I do see some parallels; they were both calms before the storm, in the 1930s it was the Second World War and in the modern half it is the financial crash,” Rachel said.
She is a fan of the Mitford sisters, and did originally write Unity as a character into ‘Winter Games’, but decided she didn’t want to mix in real historical figures.
The Mitfords also had links to The Lady, but Rachel said it was more the chance to revitalise a great British institution which drew her to take over at the 125-year-old magazine in 2009.
“I just felt there was such a good kernel of a story there,” she added.
The mother-of-three divides her time between Notting Hill and a home near Winsford on the Devon/Somerset border on her father’s estate, and said the West Country ‘is where my heart is’.
Her career in journalism started by becoming the first female graduate trainee at the Financial Times, which, she said, she was ‘really lucky’ to get.
“I also applied to The Times trainee scheme but they had some sense and chose Ann McElvoy,” she said laughing.
Freely admitting she didn’t know anything about finance before starting at the FT, she said she didn’t know much about being a lady before becoming The Lady’s editor.
“I applied because I had been let go by The Sunday Times, but I realised it was a real opportunity to make my mark,” she explained.
“Not to fill someone else’s shoes but do something of your own.”
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